[su_dropcap style=”flat”]A[/su_dropcap] HALF-DOZEN PUPPIES puppies pounce, leap and roll, chasing each other around an indoor playroom. A young man in a gray beanie gets digitally fingerprinted by a Boston cop. A Japanese school marching band practices its routine, forming straight lines that break and twist into different formations, then packs up and empties the gymnasium.
A scroll through the site Opentopia offers hundreds of such views from publicly available cameras streaming online — more than 820 in the U.S. alone — silently gazing over public parks, into waiting rooms, on front porches. This antidote to reality television encourages patience and discovery: the subtle thrill of live surveillance footage, of watching while being unseen, brings the power of spying to any viewer with a broadband connection and time on their hands.
Webcam aggregation sites touch on the paradox of data availability — we choose to share much of our lives publicly but often feel uneasy at the thought of being watched. The reality is that so much of what we do, especially when viewed through the stationary lens of a webcam, is mundane. In fact, the sheer ordinariness of our day-to-day routines can be seen as protection, a way to inoculate against privacy invasion by turning the Big Brother eye on yourself.
Unlike sites that thrive on user-contributed content or taste-tailored recommendations, Opentopia operates on Web 1.0 principles: The site aggregates streaming webcams in a single place, presented without comment. Trending cameras pop up on the homepage and recent keywords are listed on the search tab, but other than that, the site is open for unguided exploration. It rewards rummaging.